By Kristi Ruggles
The St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association adopted a slogan in 2005 that pitches the city as “Perfectly centered, remarkably connected.”
The campaign is designed for a national audience, and the slogan refers to the entire St. Louis region, but still, is it possible that in our own backyards we can quietly declare one place as the perfectly centered, remarkably connected neighborhood in this perfectly centered, remarkably connected town?
The folks in the Central West End think so.
This turn-of-the-20th-century St. Louis neighborhood pulls together art, entertainment, progress and historic charm in a place that visitors can access easily by interstate and mass transportation. Once they’re there, they can travel by foot.
In the Central West End, there is something for the architectural buff, park dweller, foodie, wine connoisseur, people-watcher, art lover and above all, the event planner.
In addition to the neighborhood’s charm, it boasts top-of-the-line spaces for business conferences and special events as well as impressive hotel space for overnight events. Among them:
Eric P. Newman Education Center
The location for the Newman Education Center (EPNEC) is described as “one of the world’s foremost crossroads of intellectual activity.” It is part of the Washington University Medical Center and was designed to accommodate groups gathered for medical and scientific conferences.
At EPNEC, physicians from all over the world gather in the 450-seat auditorium to watch surgeries through satellite link. Auditorium space is available for smaller groups, too, as well as meeting spaces.
Center Director Jamie Ryan said although the facility is best known as a gathering place for medical types, about half of the meetings and events are hosted by groups outside the medical industry.
“This is not an intimidating environment,” she said. “The facility is clean and sleek and modern. It isn’t decorated as if you’re walking into an 18th-century hotel; you won’t see tapestries. But it is a beautiful space, and because it is subtly decorated, groups can create the character they want in the space.”
Guests of the center will receive the services they expect for their meetings, such as a business center, great food, technical support and assistance from event planning staff.
A block north of EPNEC is the Parkway Hotel, which became part of the Central West End landscape in November 2003. EPNEC does not offer overnight accommodations, so the relationship between the hotel and education center is a close one.
In fact, they’re linked.
A series of above-ground tunnels link EPNEC, the hotel and several other buildings at the vast medical complex. The tunnels are a bonus for guests on rainy days and provide simple transportation of medical equipment from building to building.
The Parkway is a comfy hotel with a fireplace in the lobby and services for guests traveling on business. Rooms are Internet accessible and the lobby offers wireless access. A concierge can help guests get tickets to a show at the Muny or the Fox.
Because the hotel is so closely tied to EPNEC, it does not offer a complete food and beverage service. Guests can, however, order from an Applebee’s Restaurant on the ground level of the hotel and have meals delivered.
“It’s a nice relationship with EPNEC,” said Rob Cardwell, director of sales at the Parkway. “They handle the meetings and we handle the hotel, and we’re entirely connected. Groups can get a complete meeting package.”
Cardwell said the hotel is also a popular overnight spot for wedding parties holding ceremonies in nearby Forest Park or the Missouri Botanical Garden. If the Chase Park Plaza hosts an event for a group that needs to book additional hotel rooms, event planners there also work with the Parkway to accommodate the overflow.
Chase Park Plaza
The Chase is the granddaddy of event space in the Central West End. Presidents have spoken there. Tony Bennett and The Rat Pack have performed there. The building is historic, majestic and designed to entertain.
The Chase offers more than 65,000 square feet of event space, including two ballrooms. A ground-level ballroom can accommodate 1,500 guests. A top-floor ballroom offers party-goers a nearly 360-degree view of St. Louis and Forest Park. Other spaces offer meeting planners a variety of configurations to suit their needs.
“We have seen every type of party and event at this hotel,” said Stacey Edwards, director of sales and marketing. “From birthday parties with live camels and fashion shows on the pool deck to intimate gatherings in our private wine room, you name it, and we’ve probably seen it.”
The venue in its totality is actually two buildings—The Chase, and the Park Plaza. The Chase side is a hotel with 251 rooms and suites. The Park Plaza is undergoing a renovation and soon will become the Private Residences at the Chase Park Plaza. It will include luxury condominiums, corporate units and another 89 hotel rooms.
The glitz of the Chase Park Plaza, the comfort of the Parkway and the sleek, modern feel at the Newman Education Center are enriched by the environment they share. The Central West End is a hip and thriving neighborhood.
Want Indian food? You’ll find it. Chinese takeout is just around the corner, too. Looking for a drink menu so extensive and clever that half the fun is reading it? Look no further.
In the Central West End, you can find exceptional seafood, creative vegetarian dishes, an around-the-clock coffee hangout with Wi-Fi and the occasional open mic night, great burgers, cold beer, sidewalk dining, a bit-to-the-left-of-center bookstore, antiques, stained glass windows, a much-celebrated chocolate shop, a Welsh pub and an eclectic mix of residents who provide a constant and energetic buzz. Several restaurants offer meeting and event space.
The neighborhood also features some of the most coveted residential real estate on the St. Louis market and the 1,370-acre Forest Park, which includes the Saint Louis Zoo, Muny outdoor theatre, and art and history museums.
“This location is excellent,” said Ryan of EPNEC. “It is a showcase for St. Louis. There are always people out; the neighborhood is so vibrant. What is great too is that the whole city is so accessible from the Central West End. You don’t need shuttles or taxis to get anywhere.”
The city’s MetroLink light rail service, which runs from Lambert International Airport to downtown St. Louis and beyond, stops at the medical campus and other points convenient to the Central West End. Interstate 64 also slides along the south border of the neighborhood.
As Cardwell puts it, “We are right in the middle of everything you want to do in St. Louis.”
(Kristi Ruggles is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.)
Eric P. Newman Education Center
Chase Park Plaza
Central West End